CLEVELAND — He claims to be oblivious, withholding any acknowledgment that a halo is forming around his receding hairline. The gathering hum says LeBron James is two victories from the most impressive singular feat, as it relates to a depleted team and an unfathomable championship, in the history of American sports. Yet to hear him Wednesday, he isn't aware of the awe and reverence swirling about him, in his hometown and far, far beyond.
"I truly don't feel it. I don't go home and turn on the TV and watch highlights and watch the coverage of the games," James said. "I went home last night and I turned on 'Chopped' and then 'Teen Titans' after that at 2:30 in the morning. So I don't really know what's going on. I know we're up 2-1. I know our team is fighting for our lives. We're undermanned. We're undermatched, and we're fighting. That's all I know."
Contrast that to the Warriors, who aren't fighting half as hard as Team LeBron and, to be blunt, are doing a lot of whining and guaranteeing and posturing and Cavalier-dissing. Yep, they're coming off much like the West Coast stereotype: too cute, too finesse, too streamlined — and too soft in a hardcore Midwestern town when encountering an alley fight with a driven 260-pound behemoth and his broken-down gang of disciples. And when someone does say that not every Warrior is fighting hard enough in the franchise's first NBA Finals appearance in 40 years, it's someone like Draymond Green, who has no right to speak up until he fixes his own on-court issues. How convenient of Green to address the collective effort when he's constantly complaining to officials and not recognizing the dismal nature of his recent play. He quickly is losing locker-room cred — and millions in potential free-agent money — yet he finds time to publicly analyze the team's attitude, purpose and energy level like some wannabe Jeff Van Gundy. Or, ahem, Mark Jackson.
"They're playing like a team that's desperate and needs something. We're playing like a team that's not desperate and got something, and that's not the case," Green said.
"This isn't the time to be quiet. Everybody's speaking up. You be quiet now, you'll be home in a couple of days."
Funny how LeBron isn't saying much and sits at home watching "Teen Titans." Too bad Green's idea of motivation sounds like so much noise and posturing when it goes public, instead of keeping it in the locker room where it belongs. Andre Iguodala, the former All-Star who has vowed jokingly (I think) to kick "Steve Kerr's ass" if the Warriors win a title after he was demoted to nonstarting duty, is the only player who has showed up consistently in the Finals while vailiantly trying to defend the LeBron locomotive. As subtly as possible Wednesday, he made it clear he didn't appreciate Green's comment.
"I wouldn't say we're not fighting, but we could fight more," Iguodala said. "So I can agree and disagree with the statement."
This came after Green's immature post-game response when asked how the team will rebound emotionally. "What you mean? Like we're living in some pity party? We need to go talk to each other? Like we're going to go pity together and try to get each other going? I can tell you right now, you far off with that one, bro," he said.
Allow me to translate for Iguodala: Keep it to yourself, Draymond.
And allow me to deliver the same message to Klay Thompson. Not typically one to say anything quoteworthy, Thompson made a mistake similar to Stephen Curry's when he tweaked James after Game 3 for his "volume shooting" — which completely misses the point of his ongoing one-man sacrificial masterpiece, like criticizing Eddie Redmayne for having too many lines in "The Theory of Everything." If the Warriors were smart, prudent basketball players right now, they'd be taking lessons from the inspiration of James and the perseverance of the emerging global cult hero, Matthew Dellavedova, who, naturally, survived his overnight trip to the Cleveland Clinic and says he'll be ready tonight after suffering cramps and exhaustion. Dellavedova made the play they'll be talking about for years in Australia and in northeast Ohio if the Cavaliers win it all. With the Warriors rallying and trailing by one, he launched one of his trademark fearless drives, limbs flying everywhere as he fell to the court and managed to lift a shot with his right hand off the glass ... and into the basket. Curry drew the foul, Delly made the free throw to give his team a more comfortable lead, and in a quiet Bay Area, a solitary whoop went up at the Delly Watch Parties in Moraga, where he played ball at St. Mary's.
The only one who wasn't impressed was Thompson.
"I mean, that shot he hit when we were down one when Steph fouled him, that was just lucky, man," he said. "I guarantee he doesn't practice that shot so ... big play, though, and we're not going to let this game deflate us."
Then, Thompson went Broadway Klay on us, understanding that both Oakland and San Francisco happen to have a Broadway. "If we get our offense back, which we will, we're going to win this series."
So a guy who goes 6 of 16 and scores 14 points in 39 minutes says Dellavedova, who scored 20 points and made every big hustle play, is lucky.
And a guy who hits 2 of 10 shots and scores seven points in 30 sometimes-invisible minutes says the Warriors aren't playing hard enough. Oh, and Green disagrees with Thompson on Dellavedova, admiring the way he got to two key loose balls. "Who got the first? Delly. The second? Delly," he said.
It's stunning how quickly the Warriors have lost their collective equilibrium and splintered after two losses. Fact is, they haven't played well this entire series and, again, haven't been the same consistent offensive machine since Curry smashed his head on the hardwood in Houston. Therein lies the problem: As a leader by example, not via his mouth (Green) or massive presence in the sport (James), Curry isn't one to rally the troops in a desperate situation. Last month in Memphis, with the Warriors trailing 2-1 in the Western Conference semifinals, Curry and Iguodala went golfing on an off day. Wednesday, the Warriors moped about "media obligatons" required by the league at the Finals.
To observers who haven't been around Curry, there's a certain shock about seeing his hang-dog look when his shot isn't falling. Never, ever is a Most Valuable Player supposed to have body-language issues in any sport. Honest to a fault, Curry admitted he always has struggled to keep his spirits high when he's struggling with his jumper, as he has sporadically for more than two weeks. "I've always been challenged my whole career not to let made or missed shots affect what else you do on the floor. It's not a good trait for any basketball player have, the rest of your game reflected on whether you're making or missing shots," he said. "But it does help to see shots go in, and you start to build a rhythm and build momentum. I think everybody feeds off seeing the ball go in the basket and you start to feel better about yourself. If for some reason it doesn't go that way, we still have to find a way to impact the game and not let that affect your defense, not let it affect our body language, not let it affect just our activity level on the floor. And that is the challenge, especially in the Finals series like this where every possession matters."
He is who he is, a delightfully grounded kid. But when facing an all-time onslaught like the James Offensive, Curry may be out of his emotional league. And Green, even if he somehow meant well, isn't the player to take over motivational responsibilities, especially as his Beats ad makes its heavy-rotation run during the Finals — on ABC and ESPN.com — after Curry shut down his commercial opportunities in April. This is a young team learning how to take the championship step amid all the possible hangups, pointed fingers and ego trips. As I've said, the Warriors don't seem ready for this moment. We'll find out tonight if they can figure it out in the face of LeBron's impending immortality, Cleveland's 51-year sports title wait and an arena that will be even more headache-inducing than Tuesday night.
Is there a coach in the house this series? To Kerr's credit, he was behind 2-1 to the Grizzlies and joined assistant Ron Adams in devising masterful defensive strategies the rest of that series. Wednesday, Kerr continued to emphasize what he has been saying for days: The Warriors must rediscover the fast-pace, whip-pass, blur-and-dazzle attack that ruled the NBA for months. Why would they rediscover it now when they didn't Tuesday? Or Sunday?
"There is always overreaction to everything. Outside the locker room, for sure," he said, trying to downplay national criticism of the Warriors. "Inside the locker room is where it's much easier to control the dialogue, the narrative, whatever you want to call it. It's about putting it in perspective. We're one win away from being right back where we need to be. We've been in this situation as we talked about with Memphis."
But Memphis did not have Dellavedova, who was asked if he would find himself to be an annoying player if matched against himself. "Yeah, I think I would," he said. "In college, guys would try all kinds of things to just distract me or get under my skin."
And Memphis did not have King James, who is feeling an intense oneship with the region that once disowned him and burned his jersey when he left for Miami.
"I think time heals all. It was a bitter moment when I left the first time, but it's a sweet moment here now that I'm back," he said. "Both sides had an opportunity to kind of miss each other, and they say if it's worth having and it's supposed to be there, then it will always come back. That's the example it is today, and I'm happy to be back. I know the fans are excited and exuberant about me being back. It's been pretty cool so far."
As opposed to the Warriors, who are starting to feel very cold.